Back in 2018, Mary Goretti’s vision of owning her own sustainable snack canteen seemed like an unattainable dream. However, through sheer hard work and the support of a collaborative project between two organisations, Mary managed to turn her dreams of promoting the indigenous culinary traditions of Jharkand into a reality.
The economic empowerment of women in Eastern India through microenterprises project which helped Mary tap into her potential kicked off in April 2019 when RYTHM Foundation, the social impact arm of the QI Group, joined forces with the Parinaama Development Foundation. The Parinaama Development Foundation in India is an organization committed to fighting poverty and exclusion by empowering youth, women, and girls from poor and marginalized communities around the country by providing skills training and other resources.
The alliance between the two foundations recently bagged the silver award under the category for livelihoods at the 8th National CSR Summit and CSR Times Awards held recently. The award-winning collaborative project between these two foundations aims to aid marginalized communities in the eastern states of India – such as Bihar, Jharkand and Odisha – through grassroots development initiatives that empower women to improve their standard of living.
The mushroom farming programme that Mary enrolled in was one of many initiatives under the project which imparted the technical and business skills that helped Mary get her mushroom snack enterprise up and running with her own funds and a business plan in place.
“I worked on improving my range of snacks and worked with other women I met in self-help groups and eventually got to a point where I was ready to expand my farming operations to scale up production and diversify my products. Not long after, I discovered through the Jharkhand Livelihoods Promotion Society that their block office was looking for entrepreneurs to run their canteen. Thanks to my sharpened skills, I managed to impress the government stakeholders and set up shop permanently in their canteen! I feel very fortunate to have the support from RYTHM and Parinaama Foundation, who gave me the wings to fly. The programme has been a turning point in my life and for so many other women in our community,” said Mary.
While the goal is certainly to empower women, the partnership project holds true to its higher vision of a gender equitable, sustainable, and socially inclusive world by also providing opportunities for men to benefit from the programme. Roshan and Chandan Kumar, founders of the Madhubani Agri Trading Company, put in a special request to avail of the mushroom farming training programme knowing full well that the programme was designed for women.
“We felt that as men, we should also do our part to help the women folk. In our region, women are considered the soul and dignity of the household and are seldom allowed to work outside. Mushroom farming is an extension of the agricultural work that the women here already engage in, and so it seemed to be a good alternative for them to gain employment. We set up our own mushroom production unit after completing the training, employing women in the process and working alongside Parinaama and RYTHM Foundation to ensure the sustainability of the project,” said Roshan.
Santhi Periasamy, head of RYTHM Foundation shared insight into how the partnership was first initiated. She said, “Child mortality as well as the exploitation and discrimination of women and the unskilled workforce were some of the grave issues in many parts of India. RYTHM Foundation was keen to work with reliable partners to devise solutions as we are deeply committed to our goal of empowering women so that they too can play an instrumental role in transforming their communities. When we were introduced to Parinama Foundation who presented their initiatives on ground, RYTHM Foundation wasted no time in gathering background information about Parinaama and promptly agreed to work in partnership with them.”
While the partnership between RYTHM and Parinaama initially commenced with the goal of reducing child mortality rates, it has since evolved to focus on meeting the needs of the surrounding communities. The mushroom farming also included a nutritional component for children and young mothers and eventually, the project diversified to incorporate the garment programme which later also grew to include manufacturing and distributing soap, face masks, sanitary pads, and other essentials through their existing local chain.
It also incorporated product-based health education and awareness programmes covering topics such as hand washing, vaccination and immunization, breastfeeding, nutrition, environmental sanitation and more. With a broad portfolio of existing initiatives, Parinaama was very well positioned to support the marginalised communities when the pandemic hit last year.
The economic empowerment of women in Eastern India through microenterprises project is poised to sustain itself beyond the funding from RYTHM Foundation thanks to rapport building efforts with the community. Building the network of female entrepreneurs and clients ensures that the women wills tick together to enable the efficient operations of the microenterprises in the long run. The programme has also established production spaces and marketing links to further assure the sustainability of their enterprises.
Parinaama also mediates with the local vendors on behalf of the women to ensure a steady stream of orders that will ensure immediate wages for the women through the products. This will be pursued on a war footing to retain the women’s interest and motivation for the work, which is extremely crucial for survival of the communities.
The success of the partnership between the two foundations is reflected in the positive impact it has had on over 10,000 youth and women who have been able to establish their own enterprises or gain employment through the programme’s capacity building activities. Beyond the financial and economic benefits, the women in these communities have also reported a greater sense of self-awareness in managing themselves and their teams.
“The programmes were carefully designed, implemented and monitored to ensure the most impact. This project has completely changed the lives of more than 10,000 women and youth. Apart from releasing them from the shackled of poverty, these women have also become self-sufficient, confident, informed and determined. These are elements which are crucial to set the way straight for sustainable communities which RYTHM Foundation aspires to accomplish,” said Santhi.